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How to get greater impact from your events

Have you ever been to a training course and become all excited about putting some new strategies into place, only to find that a few weeks later you are back in the same routine and have not really changed anything you thought you would? This is a common story, so today we’re exploring this issue and what actually helps an event make an impact. 

Robert Brinkerhoff, an American professor and expert in learning effectiveness and evaluation, realised there was a problem with training events. Companies routinely send employees on training programs and expect change as a result. Mostly though, there is not that much change, though there can be a lot of money spent on training! So he set out to investigate the impact of learning and development in companies. 

He found very few training events were effective. In fact less than 20% of attendees of training events applied their learning in their workplace. Of course this is disappointing, as the goal of learning and development programs is usually to accelerate the implementation of a particular strategy to produce concrete and worthwhile results for the organisation. The return on investment is only gained if participants actually apply what they learnt. The goal of learning and development is not just to do great training, but to help organisations get great results from the training program. 

As a result of his frustration, Brinkerhoff created the 40:20:40 model for high impact learning. He argued that to get the full impact of learning, you need to really focus on the periods before and after the event, rather than just the event.  In fact, what happens before and after the training does more to create results than the learning event itself. Unfortunately most evaluations for training programs only focus on the training event itself, and not how well the attendees are using the training to get the desired results. 

If you are serious about getting a good return on training investment, you need to build intentionality and alignment into the overall program, and get agreement from senior management about the importance of the training program. You also need to create quality learning interventions, by applying the principles of adult learning. And perhaps most importantly, you need to build in support mechanisms after the event, as learning is often fragile when it is new. 

You should spend about 40% of your effort before the event focusing on the learners’ needs, preparing the material and designing relevant engagement activities. During the event, which should only take 20% of your effort, you need to focus on facilitating the learning, ensuring all participants are engaged and are contributing, and make sure to build in suitable reflection activities. After the event, which should take 40% of your effort, you need to help the attendees translate what they learnt at the event back into their own work situations. You may need to help them find the relevance and also provide constructive feedback. 

So let’s apply this to our extension situation, where we are meeting with a group of farmers over a period of time, such as with a peer-to-peer learning group. This model suggests that the first part of any meeting should involve some pre-work. This should be designed to help participants engage with the topic of the event, help them clarify what they need from the event and prepare to get the most from it. 

For the event itself, start with feedback and discussion on what has been tried, used or done since the last group meeting. Allow time for this by including it on the runsheet. At the end of the meeting, make sure there is time for reflection that allows the participants to think about what they took from the discussion and what the next step looks like for them. This can help you shape the first part of the next meeting, which will start with reflection on what has happened at the previous meeting. 

After the group event has occurred, encourage group discussion via email, social media, or whatever method the group decides is best for them. This could be as simple as sharing a photo or asking a question about how they are implementing their next step. You could also encourage group members to pair up and check-in on each other to offer support.  

In conclusion, if you want to get a greater impact from the events you run, you need to spend twice as much effort preparing for them, compared to running the event itself; and similarly devote twice as much effort to the activities following the event. Sorry, we never said it was going to be easy! Like most things, the more you put in, the more you will get out of it. But if you are serious about getting as much impact as possible from your events, then remember the 40:20:40 model and design your events accordingly. 

Well, you have read our thoughts about increasing the impact from events, now we would like to hear yours! Add a comment below the blog post and tell us about your experiences, including any tips and further ideas about it. We don’t want this to be just a one-way conversation – join in by sharing your thoughts and ideas with us! 

Thanks folks for reading this Enablers of change blog. Remember to subscribe to our newsletter if you would like to know when new episodes are available. And if you liked what you heard, tell your friends so they too can join the conversation!

All the best until we meet again! 


Brinkerhoff, R. O., & Apking, A. M. (2001). High impact learning: Strategies for leveraging performance and business results from training investments: Westview Publishing.

Mooney, T., & Brinkerhoff, R. (2008). Courageous training: Bold actions for business results: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Robert O. Brinkerhoff – Making L&D Matter: Learning Technologies 2013 video

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Richard Wakelin
Richard Wakelin
3 years ago

Thank you Denise and John, another great learning and nicely delivered. You have delivered some key messages here, and in my experience time spent early (“the first 40”!) clarifying exactly what you are trying to achieve is important. Clarity of the change, or clarity of the takeaway message helps alignment of expectations. Too often purpose can be disguised by a “drawcard” to drive attendance, burying the key message in the event.

Adrian Englefield
Adrian Englefield
3 years ago

Hello John and Denise.
Thanks for this video. I have been to some training events and yes, from some events (in the long-term) practice change was not implemented!!!
In previous extension roles the ‘pre-work’ involved grower/industry surveys or ‘needs analysis’ for workshop content and preparation of materials etc. Probably spent too much time in this area!!!
Great (and simple) suggestions for the ‘post-event’ follow up – pictures and examples of adoption within a peer-to-peer working group.

Do you have a project example or case study to share?

3 years ago

Thanks Denise and John for sharing this write. indeed it’s very true that organisations spend much resources to train people and expect change. Usually what happen is some of training are top down in nature disregarding participants Input. Which means that learning objectives does not address peoples performance deficiencies hence change is very unlikely to happen. But with this article change is guaranteed

3 years ago
Reply to  John James


Tony Watson
Tony Watson
2 years ago

Thanks John and Denise, a great reminder to allocate time and resource to the post-event work.

It’s so easy to get caught up in other work or events without giving much thought to those who participated in the actual event and supporting them in change/implementation/next steps etc!

40:20:40 so simple and so effective! Cheers

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